Amish Antisocial Discourtesy

Not only are Amish people terse and action-oriented, some of them surpass terse heading straight toward taciturn and curtly discourteous; in fact they can be perceived as downright antisocial by non-Amish people. Social courtesies are a matter of cultural perspective, and generally speaking, the Amish subculture has two standards of what is and what is not, socially acceptable behavior: one for Amish and another for non-Amish. [pullquote]Social courtesy is a matter of perspective.[/pullquote]

My mother was an excellent example of this.

During the late 1960s, my parents had a small home-based business in the heart of tourist country, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Although many of their customers were Amish people, there were also the occasional non-Amish tourists who found their way into the shop. My mother, a sociable and voluble person, morphed into a stern-faced, tight-lipped stranger when those tourists starting asking questions.

When asked, “Why do you have those pins in your dress?” her standard answer was, “To keep it shut.” To “Do you cut your hair?” she had the brilliant one-word response of “No.” When she was asked why the Amish only wore black stockings, she said, “To keep our legs warm.” When someone was bold enough to ask why the women wore those white things on their heads, she’d retort, “To cover our hair.”

She considered such curt, rude sarcasm well deserved because like anyone else, she did not appreciate being viewed as a spectacle. And she certainly did not have the time or patience to satisfy a total stranger’s curiosity, particularly not when she felt their questions belonged in the Stupid Question category.

We children felt they should have been thankful she did not tell them to shut up and get out.

At the same time, Amish people are as human as everyone else. They have the same characteristics, temperaments, and personalities. They have the same mix of physiological, psychological, and emotional stressors. They have the same paradoxical needs to be both social and solitary creatures. And, they are just as likely to have just as much difficulty as anyone else in achieving a healthy balance.

Overall, though, they tend to be cautious, wary, and suspicious of anyone who is not Amish. That attitude, of course, is reflected in what is often interpreted as antisocial discourteous behavior.


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